Top tips: Music and copyright

By Greer Donovan

Greer Donovan, the licensing manager of the Australasian Performing Rights Association, answers your questions about music licensing and copyright.

Q. What is the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA)?

A. APRA is a non-profit organisation which licenses the public performance and communication rights in music on behalf of composers, songwriters and music publishers from around the world.

Q. My business plays music from the radio. Do I have to pay someone?

A. The Copyright Act in New Zealand states all public performances of music require the permission of the copyright owner. The courts have determined that music played in a shop by way of radio is a performance that requires a licence. APRA is the practical way to obtain this.

Q. What about just playing CDs in a shop or cafe?

A. A licence is required if the performance is in public. There is little distinction between how the music is played. Music played in public in a shop or cafe provides benefits for the business and the creators of the music should benefit from the use of their work. New Zealand is part of a worldwide system that exists to respect these rights.

Q. What's the difference between just playing music in my home? I don't have to pay for that.

A. Music played at home, in personal transport or in a hotel room is not considered to be in public, and does not require APRA licence permission.

But when a business plays music for the benefit of clients or staff, this is public.

Q. Why does APRA hassle small businesses for something that seems fairly unimportant?

A. Music writers and composers are not paid a wage or salary to write music. Value in their work comes when the work is broadcast or performed live. They too are small businesses. APRA royalties help to keep these businesses working so everyone can enjoy the music.

Q. Which songs are on APRA's list? Can I just play songs that aren't covered?

A. The APRA repertoire consists of some 2.5 million works, almost everything ever written that remains in copyright. Users of music can be confident our repertoire covers everyone from Shostakovich to Slim Dusty.

Q. If I pay a band to play in my bar and they get royalties from APRA, aren't they getting paid twice?

A. APRA act on behalf of the music writer. The band may be playing "covers", which are not original and therefore won't receive anything from APRA. Even if the band is playing original music, you are authorising the performance and are obliged by law to obtain a licence.

Q. How do you know which songs I might play, for example, in my shop?

A. The licence fees collected from these licences are distributed according to music played on radio, TV and other data we sample. It is envisaged the majority of music played in bars, restaurants, retail shops will be similar to the music being played on the radio.

Q. How much money, for example, would a small cafe have to pay each year for playing a few CDs in the background?

A. For as little as $96 per year, APRA can provide background music licences covering a worldwide repertoire of music.

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